Alfonso Reyes, the great Erudite of Mexico

We are conmemorating the death anniversary of Mexican erudite, poet, essayist and humanist Alfonso Reyes.

Alfonso Reyes was a very high cultured man.

He was born on May 17th of 1889 and he was from a very wealthy family.

He was the son of the famous general Bernardo Reyes.

His genius  led him to be named one of the “illustrious men” in Mexico.

Alfonso Reyes made his first studies in the French Lycée in Mexico.

In 1909, he and other like-minded young Mexican intellectuals such as Martín Luis Guzmán and José Vasconcelos, founded the Ateneo de la Juventud to promote new cultural and aesthetic ideals and educational reform in Mexico.

At the age of 21, Reyes published his first book, Cuestiones estéticas. The following year, 1912, he wrote a short story, La Cena (“The Supper”), considered a forerunner of surrealism and of Latin American magical realism. In that year he was also named Secretary of the Escuela Nacional de Altos Estudios at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Reyes obtained his law degree in 1913, the same year that his father would die participating in an attempted coup d’état.

Alfonso Reyes was posted to Mexico’s diplomatic service in France in 1913.

After Germany invaded France in 1914, he moved to Madrid, Spain, and pursued a literary career as journalist, investigator, translator, critic, and writer. In 1915, he wrote what is probably his best known essay, “Visión de Anáhuac (1915),” with its famous epigraph, “Viajero: has llegado a la región más transparente del aire”, the source of the title of Carlos Fuentes’s novel La región más transparente.

Reyes was reinstated in the diplomatic service in 1920. He was the second secretary in Spain in 1920,[1] was in Paris from 1924 to 1927, then served as the ambassador to Argentina (1927–30 and 1936–37).

He was the Mexican ambassador to Brazil from 1930 to 1935 and again in 1938.

In 1939, he retired from the diplomatic corps and returned to Mexico, where he organized what is today El Colegio de México and dedicated himself to writing and teaching.

The Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges referred to Reyes as “the greatest prose writer in the Spanish language of any age”.

At least five avenues in Monterrey’s metropolitan area, three in the municipality and one in Mexico City are named after Reyes.

The Alfonso Reyes International Prize:

The Alfonso Reyes International Prize is a Mexican award given for meritorious lifetime contributions to literary research and criticism. It was founded in 1972 by the economist turned author/critic, Francisco Zendejas and was named in honor of Alfonso Reyes, a well-known Mexican literary critic, author and poet.

Since its creation, the prize has been awarded by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA), in cooperation with the Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (Conaculta), the Sociedad Alfonsina Internacional, the government of Nuevo León, the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León, the Universidad Regiomontana and the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey.

The first award was presented in 1973.

No awards were given from 1996-1999.

Many important writers, both Mexican and international won the “Alfonso Reyes” international award including: Octavio Paz, Ernesto de la Peña, Carlos Fuentes, Rubén Bonifaz Nuño, Eduardo Lizalde, Alí Chumacero, Andrés Henestrosa, Juan José Arreola and José Luis Martínez Rodríguez (Mexico), Harold Bloom and James Willis Robb (USA),  George Steiner (France-USA), Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares (Argentina), Paulette Patout, Jacques Soustelle,  Marcel Bataillon and André Malraux (France), Mario Vargas Llosa (Perú), Alejo Carpentier (Cuba), Ignacio Bosque and Jorge Guillén (Spain),  Margit Frenk (Mexico-Germany) and Ramón Xirau (Spain-Mexico).

Alfonso Reyes passed away on December 27 of 1959.


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